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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Was Old School D&D as Deadly as We Think?


               There is a perception that Old School D&D with the original players was incredibly lethal. If you run the game straight as the rules are written, it is hard for it to be anything but lethal. There is plenty of conversation in the OSR scene discussing the “intentions” of the original game designers and how the game was “designed” to be played. I teach about Government & Politics, and I find these arguments extremely similar to arguments about the US Constitution and the “intentions” of the Founding Fathers. People tend to want to read what the Founding Fathers wrote, and interpret those writings for themselves, then claim this is what the original “design” and how the game is meant to be played. The only issue that I have is the evidence I have heard or run across seems to completely disregard this idea.



                I want to be perfectly clear. I do not have ALL the evidence in the world, and some of the stories I have heard MIGHT not be true. This is not me claiming to know the CORRECT way things should be done. This is me asking a few questions that seem to not link up in my mind. I am actually hoping to get some answers. So please, do not post comments about how I am claiming to know everything, because I do not, nor is that my assertion. The three main concepts I will discuss that do not seem to match up to me are lethality, level drain, and leveling overall.

Lethality

Melf, Bigby, Tasha, Murlynd, Mordenkainen, Robilar These are all characters that we have known about for years. Many of these characters were some of the first ever produced for Dungeons & Dragons. How did they survive? I mean with the lethality level that is presented in the books, and the fact that these people were the first to ever play the game, why didn’t they die at some point? I mean a single failed save vs poison would have killed them. Since these players did not have any reference to exploring dungeons, they had to make a few mistakes, right? Some of the characters like, Robilar, played solo with Gary….solo in a Dungeons & Dragons dungeon. How did they survive? Many of these well-known characters are Magic-Users a notorious character class known to die early. The idea that all of these characters, and many more, made it to extremely high levels leads to one of two conclusions. One, when the original D&D groups played, they did not go rules as written and the lethality was toned way down. Two, resurrection was readily available and not as punishing.




When I ran BX/BECMI with a rules as written approach, I believe I was often very merciful but still averaged about 1.5 deaths per session. These numbers and the stories I hear about older D&D just do not seem to match. I have slowly added some house rules into my games and the lethality has come down quite a bit, but it still happens with some regularity. It is possible that they played so many characters that died, that these just stuck out, but we know that many of these characters are the FIRST characters made for the game and odds are should have died. I cannot wrap my head around what seems to be a non-logical conclusion.

Level Drain

                I have read that the original reason that level drain mechanic was added to the game was that the parties were leveling so fast, and they had an overabundance of wishes. How fast were they leveling and how many wishes did they have exactly? The monsters created would drain levels to keep the PCs from advancing too fast, and the DM could drain the party’s resources, wishes, as they used the wishes to restore levels. What kind of treasure was being given out to the players? Oftentimes even getting a +1 sword in my game is a big deal, let alone multiple Rings of Wishes or Genie Lamps. I did write an article about giving players wishes, but so many that as a DM I need to create a way of burning them for the players? How much gold was being given out that leveling too quickly was becoming an issue?  I fully admit this tale could be apocrypha and maybe I am completely off-base, but this rumor about why it was started has been cited to me numerous times. Speaking of leveling…..





Leveling

I watched a YouTube video with Tim Kask where he quickly talked about high level play. He mentions that D&D wasn’t really designed to go above about level 10. He mentioned that when your character got to about that level they carved out a piece of land and retired, then you rolled up a new character and went on with a new guy. That sounds amazing and I totally agree, but how many of your characters were getting to about 10th level? The way he made it sound this was like a regular occurrence. I have been running a group of characters since August of this past years. We play weekly, and my highest level character is about to hit 3rd level. What kind of XP were they giving out? I have been playing D&D since 1989 and the amount of characters I have that hit 10th level I can count on one hand and most of those were in later, non-THAC0 editions.




                You listen to reports of people playing nowadays discussing how most characters never make it out of levels 1-2. There seems to be a disconnect with the way things are written about in the books and the way they were actually played. That, or people nowadays are just worse at playing the game, which I do not believe to be the case.

Conclusion

                Odds are there are some simple solutions to the questions that I pose and I am more that open to hearing the explanations. I am just curious why these ideas that I have in my head, do not seem to match the stories that I hear. If you can shine some light on the situation, please comment on the post.





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53 comments:

  1. I think you're missing core "lore" from that time...as well as rules. I mean your considerations above are correct but you're missing key pieces of knowledge from those times.

    e.g.
    a) GP for XP. Oh you can level up MUCH faster than the tables hint at believe me.
    b) Henchmen, Hirelings and smart play. They did not dive into the dungeons without henchmen - that quickly spelled disaster so players wizened up.
    c) Multiple characters. For every Bigby there is a dead Rigby, Brigby or what have you. The ones we know of know are the survivors who were now at a higher level who then played the game as it as expected of them.
    etc

    (Could nto edit so I reposted - sorry)

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    1. I run BX/OSE so gold for XP is in full effect and the characters do hire henchmen, so that cannot be the separating factor.

      I agree that multiple characters are key, but many of the ones I mention were the first characters they made. Obviously those didn't die.

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    2. The difference you're missing is that Robert was a straight up genius, and Ernie also an extremely bright kid who also benefited from a sense of organization from his father (which for instance made him draw maps when Rob would remember mentally and use labyrinth exit tricks to navigate levels in the dungeon), and that the both of them were raised with Gary Gygax and games 24/7. This forged their way of playing the game and they instinctively understood what the DM (Gary) was after, the tricks and the traps, the way to navigate the game tactically, honing agency before any rolls are made, (when you make a roll in this game, it means you've tactically opened yourself to failure already), and so on, so forth. The game is not the rules. The rules are not the game. These kids understood it at an instinctive, cultural and familial level. The others, Terrik (Terry Kuntz), and later people like Jim Ward, learned from their input.

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    3. Benoist's point is very key here -- we know, for example, that the Tomb of Horrors module came to exist primarily because Ernie Jr. had gotten into the habit of poking every square with a ten-foot pole, levitating and moving hand-over-hand via the ceiling, etc., to the point where his father had to "create a new killer dungeon" specifically to counter said tactics. I think this suggests the old versions WERE more lethal, or, at the very least, settled into a narrow blast-and-traps-and-poison dynamic which carved out many player-characters until player tactics adapted.

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  2. I wonder if the notion of permanent character death took root at the very start of the hobby. I get the impression (though I cannot evidence it) that character death meant death-for-that-session and Bigby would be back again next session as if nothing had happened, the way sitcoms and adventure series on TV used to reset themselves at the start of each new episode. I suspect the idea of rpgs as a linear narrative with irrevocable character death took a while to evolve.

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    1. That sounds like an interesting idea.

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    2. It depends.

      I started with Moldvay Basic, but looking online it seems 0D&D already has Raise Dead. It's not the infinite reset button B/X provides--you can only be raised a number of times equal to your Constitution score. Given an average score of 10 on a 3d6 roll, however, this still provides many opportunities to "try again."

      Cost is a possible obstacle as well--In B/X the suggested COST to create scroll of Raise Dead is 2500 gp, excluding any markup. Apparently the 1e DMG sets the cost of resurrection at 1000gp + 500 gp per level of caster. This would make the cheapest Raise Dead 5500 gp in 1e.

      Gold is generally more readily available in B/X than in 1e, so it would not be as much of a barrier in the former.

      So, playing by the rules as they appear in the rulebooks, the possibility of raising your character from the dead exists as far back as 0D&D, and is much more accessible in the B/X than in either 0e or 1e.

      In reality, it depends entirely on the preferences of the DM and the group as a whole. The fact that Raise Dead was an option from the start makes me think it probably played a large role in those early games, and to a certain extent may explain the longevity of players' favorite characters from that time.

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    3. Certainly, in later higher-level campaigns, we heard many narratives about "The Circle of Eight being wiped out," or "All but Mordenkainen dying" (so that he had to resuscitate the others) -- seems like a reasonable Justice League Superhero deal, though few of my personal games ever reached this point.

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  3. I'll throw in my experiences and some thoughts on the subject based on them.

    To begin with, we never liked "level draining" monsters so we had very few of them in our campaigns. We didn't completely remove them (I recall an occasional Wight) but they were very rare. On the other hand, I don't recall ever receiving a single Wish or having the option to Resurrect a character! It simply never happened, at least as far as I remember. I do remember plenty of characters dying. To this day, if I DM'd, I wouldn't hand out a Wish and Resurrection would not be an option. I consider both too cheap to allow.

    As for dying, yes, I had several characters die. Almost all at low levels. But the highest level character I ever played only made it to 6th or 7th level. I had another make it to 4th and a third, who had crazy stats (rolled 4x 16s and 2x 17s), got to 2nd level. They're all still alive, so to speak. But they're also all who survived my years of playing the game. Is it lethal? Yes. Sometimes it's lethal "just because", but there are plenty of characters who survive too.

    Magic is a big issue for some folks. I am surprised at how tight many DMs (at least from blogs and FB) are with it. I like a world with limited magic but I consider "limited" to mean there isn't a lot of high-level stuff (like a Wish, for example). We had a bunch of +1 and +2 swords, shields, various potions, and cloaks and boots of all kinds. It wasn't always easy to use (I never found a good use for the Swan Boat token my character found) but we had it. What we didn't have were +5 Vorpal Swords and artifacts that could change reality. Lots of small stuff; not much big stuff.

    So how did it work? Very well, actually. Characters died, we got plenty of treasure that included magic items that were useful but rarely very powerful, and generally speaking we didn't face off against World Changing Monsters. I don't ever recall encountering a Dragon, to be honest. But we got our clocks cleaned by some Xorns.

    Generally speaking, we played it fast and loose and let the chips fall where they may. I have an intense fondness for the characters that survived and a good story or two about the ones that didn't. I'll add that we weren't concerned with World Building or deep characterization. We weren't quite murder hobos but we loved the tactical nature of the combat system. It was fun as all get-out; that's all we wanted.

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    1. That is the type of game that I am striving for nowadays. Something more fast and loose, but I cannot at times feel like I am doing it "wrong".

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    2. I don't think you can do it "wrong", really. My only recommendation is to not plan it in much detail. We didn't even know what treasure was available; the DM rolled it all up after the monsters were defeated. He even rolled up whether they were in a lair or not after-the-fact! It was almost completely random, although the DM always had the option to say "you're not finding THAT" to whatever treasure was rolled. That happened a few times; we'd just groan and laugh and move on. It was part of the crazy-quilt of the adventure!

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  4. Interesting questions. I could nitpick about selection bias (you did mention it, though), but the thrust of your argument sounds right to me.

    I can't remember on which OSR blog I read that, but someone was saying that most adventures (published, home-made, whatever) are way too light on treasures. I listened to Chgowiz podcast (I recommend it!), and he awards something like 3-4 times the usual treasures and more XP for defeating monsters (but he plays once a month).

    I just started DMing OSE (4 sessions in) with brand new players coming from 3.x and 5e (some did start with older stuff, years ago, myself included), and they definitely die a lot : my experience reflects yours. In 4 sessions, 5 PCs and 3 hirelings died (all NH); 2 NH hirelings gained a level (I ask fot 100 xp); 3 hirelings failed their end-of-adventure Loyalty check, so quit (tragically, this includes the two 1st level ones).

    I'm ruthless with the dice (rolling in the open and letting them fall where they may), but I think that I'm very generous with informations (for instance, PCs can never be "surprised" by a trap : they will always see something is amiss if they move at exploration speed or if they are in the wilderness). In all fairness to the game, almost all death are combat-related, where the players did initiate the hostilities (a single hireling did die because of poison trap in Tomb of the Serpents Kings, and it was perfect to teach the players how to play).

    Some hypothesis, on the top of my head : maybe the original players were super cautious, always fleeing, etc. Maybe the DM was very explicit about dangers and things like that. Maybe they were using lots and lots and lots of hirelings and/or animals to rush through the dangers (and die), letting their PC survive and level up without too much actual risk and fighting. Maybe they played a lot, and did not spend much game time doing stuff other than looki for treasure. Of course, maybe the game was not exactly played BTB, with much more treasure, less dangers, etc.

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  5. Rephrasing my comment: I'll add: we almost never used Henchmen. We sometimes had two characters each but I don't recall henchmen. We did use good sense and our characters tended to stay alive. I think some of the multiple characters may have been viewed as henchmen.

    Another thought: Traps seem to be a big deal now; they weren't then (for us). It made very little sense to us that a dungeon that had been in existence for years and had various groups of beasts moving in and out of it would have active traps of the type many people now design. Some smaller, localized traps (if there were Kobalds or something similar about) but nothing insanely complex. And few, if any, magical traps. Magic Users had better things to do, to our minds.

    So I guess the way we played was quite different than how many play today (and, perhaps, in yore).

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  6. One thing that I am seeing some here, and a lot on Facebook is people commenting that in THEIR games at home it was lethal. Ok. That is really not the focus of the piece though. The idea of the article is, "How lethal was the original games played of D&D?" To me it seems that levels were gained faster and it was less lethal than the perception nowadays of those games. I fully admit I could be wrong though.

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    1. Well, I *did* present a couple of hypothesis about that, too. ;)

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    2. Well, we used the treasure as given in the MM and awarded XPs by the book as well. And we didn't level up that quickly. It was always a big deal if we made another level (MORE HIT POINTS!).

      The original game (I played 1e and a bit of 2e) was pretty lethal, even just using the random tables in the DM Guide. I should point out that we didn't use modules; everything was up to the DM and it was usually pretty random.

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    3. You did, I am mostly talking about FB. There is a flood of, "Yes it was deadly, I died a lot." Which isn't really the point I was going for. I mention how I was killing 1.5 players a week, I know it is deadly as is. The question is, was that the intention?

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    4. I don't know that there is any definitive way to answer this question, short of interviewing the players themselves. AFAIK, there is no authoritative written record of how many characters the players lost, how many times characters were raised from the dead, and how many times the DM's fudged die rolls.

      I know you talked with Tim Kask. You might reach out to Rob Kuntz and Ernie Gygax if you want the inside scoop. I for one would love to learn what you find out. I'm very curious about what happened in those early games! :)

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  7. One of the stories Mr Ward tells of playing with Gary Gygax and family: he was playing a 1st level wizard whose only spell was Light. He used it recklessly, woke a village of paranoid natives, and got his character and most of the party killed. The following week when he came back to play he was informed that Ernie Gygax had used a Wish (from a ring of wishes) to resurrect all the dead party members and he could continue to play the same character if he wanted. Now this is just one anecdote, and one instance does not establish a pattern... but it is a hint that Wishes or other Rez may not have been rare. - Goshin

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    1. That is an interesting story and I suspect a lot of this happened more than people think.

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  8. AD&D was the beginning of taking it too easy on characters with it's -10 hit points instead of 0 is dead.

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  9. I have no knowledge of how Gary and the earliest groups played, but I started gaming in 1982 with the soft cover, red D&D book. The first game/dungeon I ran was very lethal, playing by the rules 50% of the PCs died completing it. About half way though the adventure I put a non-official "Rod of Healing" in one of the treasure hoards. It delivered one Cure Light Wound spell per character per day, and still the 50% permadeath level.

    After this adventure and a subsequent one run by one of the other players (equally as lethal) our group moved on to AD&D (first edition). In AD&D there were far more healing items officially available (potions, wands, and even scrolls), but I also created some house rules that made random deaths less likely (death's door rules which were punishing but not lethal, and liberal interpretations of things like using poison antidotes) to make the game more fun. PC deaths still happened, but usually because the player did something stupid.

    After the D&D experience, and with the number of rules pertaining to henchmen and hirelings in AD&D, we regularly had large parties that contained about as many hirelings and henchmen as PCs. This helped mitigate PC deaths and allowed for "in the field" promotion of a henchman to PC status so a player still had a character to play in the case of a PC death. I didn't allow the blatant use of hirelings and henchmen as cannon fodder -- if a player still did, after my warnings, their PC would find that their hirelings would leave, and their henchmen would complain, and then leave. In one case an ill-used henchman expressed his displeasure, left, and then came back in a revenge plot for the unwarranted death of this brother, another henchman. In short, the players got the message, via in-game consequences, and it was never a significant problem.

    Whether the original systems were more fun than the later ones or not, I believe is a matter of taste. I eventually moved away from (A)D&D because I wanted a system less over the top heroic and more focused on PC-character development then on equipment hoarding, but to each there own. I definitely remember those first few years as the most fun, but that probably has more to do with the fact that those were my high school and undergraduate years, than any of the details of the systems. Spending 12 to 14 hours per week gaming, is just not something I can do any more -- I don't have the time or the stamina to do it all in one sitting.

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    1. Don't we all wish we had 12 to 14 hours a week to game still!

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  10. In about the only example I've found of Gygax narrating a session he GMed, a higher level character escorted a bunch of lower level characters into a dungeon. They ran from just about every monster encounter and scooped up a bunch of what they thought was unguarded loot. (Turns out it had a sort of mummy's curse thing going on.)

    Once they got a few characters up to mid-levels, it probably became a lot easier for these high-level characters to shepherd lower-level characters around Castle Greyhawk and level them up pretty quickly. While I never played with Gygax and crew, it seemed pretty common for each player to have a stable of characters, especially since it could take in-game weeks for characters to heal from wounds, finish training to level up, craft magic items or add new spells to your spellbook. So having your mid-level fighter shepherd my new magic-user up to 5th level was clearly a thing that happened.

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    1. That makes some sense, you do not have a bunch of low levels completely fending for themselves.

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  11. When you have a high level party member or two, the entire party has more durability as "body retrieval" becomes easier and the group has the resources to raise individuals from the dead (giving much money to the coffers of the local temple/cathedral).

    Regarding low-level play, you have to consider the number of players that were coming to the table. I recently had a chance to play the Holmes Basic "Tower of Zenopus" adventure at a local convention (using the original Holmes Basic rules). I played a first level magic-user in a party of eight 1st level player characters. Despite using up my only spell in the first encounter (and being reduced to 1 hit point!), I was able to survive the entirety of the four hour game session, as did ALL my compatriots...we simply rotated our marching order as needed to absorb hits of damage, while bringing enough firepower (i.e. attack rolls) to wipe out the low level challenges we encountered. Those early dungeons, going by the suggestions found in the earliest editions, had a lot of empty space (they were not "jam-packed" with monsters like The Keep on the Borderlands) and their traps were more likely to delay or misdirect than outright kill (see the admonitions against auto-death traps in OD&D and the examples provided in Holmes and the 1E DMG). Traps and tricks appear to have been used to get a party disoriented and lost and/or delay them till wandering monsters could hit them...there was far less "gotcha' you're dead!"

    For added survivability, you cannot discount the impact of an additional fighter or henchman. Regardless of edition, such a character is giving your party AT LEAST the equivalent of a cure wounds spell or healing potion (and more with later edition hit point inflation) COUPLED WITH an extra attack roll (i.e. more damage output) every round. Considering the original deflated cost of outfitting such henchmen with plate mail, I don't think it's a mystery how a large, fairly smart group of players could survive and thrive with minimal losses. Most young players these days aren't thinking in war game ("troop") terms...they want their party to be a small team of elite "heroes" with the same plot immunity as a fantasy fiction protagonist. That kind of attitude often gets you killed in Old School play.

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    1. Yeah; I find that larger parties are crucial to survival, whether you use henchmen or whatever, because there's just so much whiffing in combat at the low levels. Having 8, as opposed to 4, characters is huge. We still often run multiple PCs per player since we all got used to doing so back in the day.

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  12. I remember both playing and gming Ad&D 1st ed (and to some extent this applies to seconf ed also). I found that when it came to magic items and encounters, the early systems gave little to no help in designing balanced, reproducibly fair results.

    It was hard to determine if the party was ready for an adult black dragon, or if a deck of many things or a vorpal sword was appropriate. That, in my opinion, made the game lethal, particularly in the hands of neophyte gms or those who weren't extremely careful .

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  13. As for leveling, the geometric progression of early edition advancement ensures that starting characters "catch up" fairly quickly to the veterans. A fighter needs 8,000 x.p. to get from 4th level to 5th level. If my character dies and I start over with a 1st level character, I'll get to 4th level (8,000 x.p.) the same time my buddy's fighter gets to 5th. The "penalty" for death is thus about the same as losing one level of experience...plus, your new character is probably going to start out with better gear (the cast offs of the higher level party or an "inheritance" from the dead character). Introducing the "raise dead = 1 point of constitution loss" in AD&D then provides players with an interesting choice: lose a level or lose CON. Even without wishes, the spell raise dead becomes available to most early edition parties around 7th level. No big deal.

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  14. There is a reason for DM Screens. And a DM having enough knowledge of the characters to not throw too many instant death/level draining monsters at the party is invaluable and what makes the game fun.

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  15. I'd guess that, based on your reference to wishes, that you're thinking of post Grayhawk supplement times (where Wish appeared as a 9th level spell, if I recall correctly). I date from a bit earlier -- just the three books in a box (Fall of 1974) when I started playing the game with a bit of a passion (and created my first dungeon, STORMGATE and the town (Hellsgate) from which the players launched their expeditions.

    I was in the early (starting around issue 5 or thereabouts) ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS (Lee Gold's D&D Apa) and a bit later started writing in THE WILD HUNT (Mark Swanson's D&D Apa) before starting my own APA (THE LORDS OF CHAOS).

    STORMGATE had a fairly high lethality level -- and I took in a fair number of TPKs (total party kills) in the years that I ran D&D (1974 to about 1980). Though most of those TPKs were the result of parties getting in way over their heads (NO one in their right minds attacked dragons in my old campaign -- as I gave the dragons magic using capability on top of claws, bites, tails bashes, and breath weapons, all of which could be used in the same round. Yup, bloody murder with wings and scales -- but that's what I thought dragons were SUPPOSED to be (scary creatures that only the greatest heros -- or massive armies -- stood a chance against).

    The townsfolk provided "raise the dead" for 10k gold, so if a body could be recovered, and the party had the cash, deaths were not always permanent. And for the cheap (or poor) there was my reincarnate table (local wizard providing reincarnate for a small fee); of course, the reincarnation table leaned heavily on reincarnation as a light horse, so it had its drawbacks.

    Niall "Nicolai" Shapero

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  16. For what it's worth, we've been running a Labyrinth Lord Advanced game for a bit over a year. I give all first level characters a 20 HP "kicker," which we cribbed from Hackmaster, plus you're not dead until -10 hp, though you start bleeding out at 0. But we also use crits and exploding dice. The party started with 8 characters. They are all around 7th level now, but have lost 3 of the party members, plus a henchman who had risen to 6th level as he had joined them in their very first adventure. And they have a fair amount of healing potions, scrolls, etc. So it can still be pretty deadly, but not impossible. Without that HP kicker, though, more PCs certainly would have died.

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  17. The early generation of PCs that survived are the famous ones, not the others that didn't.
    Also: Henchmen, classic play had lots of henchmen.

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    1. But many were by the player's admission their first character or close to it.

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  18. My highest level character was a 6th level bard. He was a real problem for the DM as he outlived the entire party 3 times over. He was loaded with magical crap to the extent that he killed dragon while the rest of the party burned. It drove the DM nuts because he couldn't balance anything any more. That ended the campaign.

    The very next campaign, my character used a chime of opening on a dragon's lair door. The dragon ate me with no saving throw. On the upside, the DM went outside, took down his mom's wind chimes and chased the other players around the room yelling "Dragon's coming - jing-jing-jingle!"

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  19. Well, I play the 3LBBs, and from the things I heard on the internet, in the old days, the game was played with lots of homebrew rules, that might be a factor, also, we should take in count the referee, I'm not as forgiving as some of my friends, just to give an example, I think the game, in paper, is pretty lethal, but in practice you can adjust the difficulty.

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  20. Yes, raise dead was common in early games for a price. Usually around 10,000gp or a good magic item. Sometimes you died and the body was not recoverable.

    Small numbers of PCs invariably had hirelings.

    My character in Greyhawk was 6th level. My characters in Skip Williams and Ernie Gygax games a little bit better. I lost characters in all three. Which meant starting over, and not having GP or magic items to pay for resurrection. And lots of higher levels were too mercenary to pay to raise a lower level party member.

    I do not believe PCs were more cautious or clever. But higher level characters almost never died permanently.

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  21. Also, I believe there was a rule (house?) that you could never go up more thn 1 level on a single adventure, no matter how many XP would be awarded. You got within 1 XP of the next level and lost the rest. But everybody used that rule.

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    1. It may very-well have been a house-rule in the LBBs, since a lot of the original D&D was DIY.

      By the time I started with Moldvay, it was part of the rules-as-written:

      "A character should never be given enough XP in a single adventure to advance more than one level of experience. For example, if a beginning (0 XP) 1st level fighter earns 5000 XP (a rare and outstanding achievement), he or she should only be given 3999 XP, enough to place the character 1 XP short of 3rd level."

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    2. I remember that rule and had to use it last year.

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  22. To add to the idea of lethality in earlier editions do not forget assasination was an ability, a percentage chance of success and death. Massive damage in a single hit could kill you,you could have a list level char with 2 hp witch means 1hp of dmg could send you to the grave. Natural healing was slow, so if you were out of magical healing it began a downward spiral and then illusions with no way to defend against illusions,pits were auto death. Clever players learned how to protect themselves and metagamed the hell out our situation,and carried a big stick...literally.

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    1. AFAIK, "metagaming" wasn't even a word back then--and it certainly wasn't a problem, with the possible exception of separating character knowledge from player knowledge. For the most part, we knew we were playing a game, and figuring out how to outsmart the DM and his/her scenario was part of the fun...

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  23. I know Mordenkain died once in Mordenkain s Fantastic Adventure. Gygax made mention of it more than once. Specifically he died at the hands of the iron golem and was turned to stone by the whip if held.

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    1. Maybe it was as lethal, but coming back was easier?

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  24. Indeed, the save or die or petrification, etc. saving throw was always away to keep even high level players on their toes. Just the other day in our AS&SH game, a 6th level PC failed a death save and well, died. The context was such that the party chose not to try and carry her body out and resurrect her. It was the second PC they lost in that dungeon. The lame multiple death saves they have today are among the worst of the many bad changes they've made.

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  25. I think a great way for you to answer your questions is to ask those players! Luke and Ernie are very accessible at GaryCon, and Luke seems to be accessible via FB. Look in the forums where Gary and David answered questions about their games. There are plenty of folks still alive in Lake Geneva and Minneapolis that you can reach out to.

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    1. Since publishing I have had some conversations with those members. It seems it was deadly, but there was a whole bunch of options to get characters back. Resurrection seemed very viable.

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  26. There is so much to digest and dissect here. I started playing in 1982 with BECMI and then moved on to Ad&D almost right away. I played a Wizard who had three henchmen (a fighter and two other wizards). Our ability to "nova" with spells was pretty impressive. You did seem to play bigger groups back then (I dm'ed for an average of 6 to players and one or two of those probably had henchmen so 10 bodies bouncing through any given dungeon) and these days I run a 3 to 4 person table with no henchmen. That's a BIG difference.

    I think often times there would be some built in raise dead/resurrection back in the day. Did a PC die in the faerie forest? The rest carried his body to the Seelie Queen and begged her to raise him. Did your PC die in the 4th level of the Dungeon of Awesome Deathness? Maybe you poured the water from the angel fountain on them and they were restored. I think this sort of Deus Ex Machina/ad hoc resurrection happened quite a bit.

    I can also recall a good friend of mine and I walked to this older guy's house who was allegedly a "great" dm. We got killed 5 minutes in by a surprise green dragon. That was it...we sat awkwardly then walked back home...stunned. I told my friend that in MY campaign world his character was most certainly not dead. I essentially refused to recognize the legitimacy of the kill.

    I also read an OLD article from the early 80's in a magazine like "Different Worlds" or some such where the author was talking about D&D at that time as being too easy and too much training wheels and not lethal enough and he was recommending other grittier systems where "dead was dead". I found it so hilarious that after hearing people begrudge 4th and 5th as being "too easy" that here was the same claim being made almost 40 years ago.

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